Far Away in Australia, Sports Writers Get the Number of the Beast in India

With his brilliant performance, Usman Khawaja may have unwittingly provided a certain agency to the millions who feel very strongly about the divisive politics hurting India today.

When a well-regarded sports writer reflects on the attitude of India’s ruling party and its ecosystem toward Muslim sportspersons, it should make everyone sit up and take note.

Cricket columnist Malcolm Conn of the Sydney Morning Herald has brought out the rich irony of Usman Khawaja’s brilliant century on day one of the fourth Test match between India and Australia, which started after the well-choreographed chariot ride around the stadium by PM Narendra Modi, accompanied by his Australian counterpart.

Conn says two standout performances on the first day were by Usman Khawaja, who scored a century, and from Mohammed Shami on the Indian side, who took two out of four wickets. Sadly, both Khawaja and Shami have been targets of bigotry flowing from the Hindu nationalist ecosystem in India.

Without mincing his words, Conn states that the “Hindu nationalist” government of the BJP sees “Khawaja not as one of Australia’s finest cricketers but as a Muslim born in Pakistan”.

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Khawaja was initially refused a visa by the Indian government and couldn’t travel with the Aussie cricket team on February 1. Only later, after the Australian cricket administration intervened, did Khawaja get his visa. The fact that PM Modi was planning a triumphal chariot show may have helped Usman Khawaja get his visa after a delay. But the first instinct was to reject his visa application.

So Khawaja’s century has immense significance, scored at a venue in Gujarat named after Narendra Modi. It is also his first Test century in India. At the time of writing, he was still forcefully making a point with 180 runs on board.  Indeed, Khawaja has been the best performing batsman for Australia during this series, even on pitches which favour spinners.

With his brilliant performance, Khawaja may have unwittingly provided a certain agency to the millions who feel very strongly about the divisive politics hurting India today. And sadly, such developments have touched even sports writers far away in Australia. Malcolm Conn not only empathises with Usman Khawaja but also expresses great solidarity with Mohammed Shami, who has been targeted by right wing trolls in India from time to time. He recalls how Shami was targeted for India’s loss against Pakistan in the T-20 World Cup finals 18 months ago, and captain Virat Kohli came out strongly in his support.

“Targeting someone for his religion is the most pathetic thing that a human being can do. They have no understanding of how much effort we put on the field… They have no understanding of the fact that someone like Shami has won India matches in the last few years,” Kohli had said.

Muslim cricketers have always felt pressured while playing against Pakistan. But the nature of the beast has become altogether different in recent years. Shami had received all-round support from his teammates and large sections of Indian cricket fans. “Sadly, this unswerving support for one of India’s finest was not reflected by Modi or anyone else from the BJP,” says Malcolm Conn. It’s a profoundly tragic aspect of ‘New India’.